EU Seeks Clarifications From Italy Over Autostrade Legal Dispute
(Bloomberg) -- The European Commission has raised questions over how Italy managed a long-running legal battle with infrastructure giant Atlantia SpA, owned by the billionaire Benetton family, according to a letter sent to the Rome-based government seen by Bloomberg News.
The letter seeks clarification on unilateral changes in toll-road concessions following the collapse of a highway bridge in Genoa in 2018. Italy in 2019 approved rules that would make it easier and cheaper to revoke toll road licenses.
This marks the Commission’s first reply to complaints filed in recent months by some of the company’s minority shareholders, who’ve also charged that the government’s move to force Atlantia to dispose of its holding in motorway unit Autostrade per l’Italia SpA infringed on European Union rules.
Since the legislative changes “could affect the rights of the concessionaires deriving from the concession contracts and their investors, that could constitute a restriction on the freedoms of the internal market, in particular on the free movement of capital,” the letter said.
The Benettons have been under fire in Italy ever since the Genoa accident. The family agreed last year to cede the highway unit to a group of investors led by the country’s state lender. A final deal has not been reached yet and Atlantia plans to spin off the asset.
“We welcome the EU intervention, we ask them to intervene as soon as possible,” Jonathan Amouyal, a partner at TCI Fund Management Ltd, said in a statement. TCI, with owns about 6% of Atlantia, is one of the company’s largest investors after the Benettons. Shareholders in Atlantia have suffered significant financial losses as a result of unilateral and retroactive actions by the Italian government, both of which violate EU principles, Amouyal said.
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